Ever been in a home visit with a parent who is simultaneously using his/her phone while discussing the child with you? There are lots of ways that phones and screen time show up during visits. For instance, parents hand their child a phone to keep him quiet or distract other children in the home. Parents may pull out their phones to take down notes about interventions or the next appointment. They show us videos and pictures of exciting progress in milestones, or to ask a question about something going on with their child.
Cell phones and all other forms of screens are such a huge part of life today, including children’s lives starting as early as infancy and toddlerhood. As service coordinators and providers, we can choose to resist or ignore these changes, and feel frustrated with how they impact early intervention outcomes. OR, we can step up to the challenge of employing phones and technology as tools in our interventions and interactions with families.
AAP Screen Time Recommendations
The American Academy of Pediatrics has made a formal statement of recommendations for use of technology for children of all ages in their Media and Young Minds Policy (2016). Some specific advice for ages 0-3 includes:
- For children younger than 18 months, discourage the use of screen media other than video-chatting.
- For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media, advise that they choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided.
- In children older than 2 years, limit media to 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programming. Recommend shared use between parent and child to promote enhanced learning, greater interaction, and limit setting.
- Recommend no screens during meals and for 1 hour before bedtime.
Parents often express guilt to providers over undesirable screen time issues with their child, and look to us for support. Advice from author, Lisa Guernsey, recommends that families and early childhood professionals consider the “Three C’s” when determining when and how to use various technologies: content, context and the individual child. Together with families, we can consider the following questions to begin supporting them in implementing the AAP’s recommendations, while keeping technology as a tool on our side.
- We can ask how does the content help children learn, engage, express, imagine, or explore?
- What kinds of social interactions are happening before, during, and after the use of the technology? Does it complement, and not interrupt, children’s learning experiences and natural play patterns?
- Does this technology match with this child’s needs, abilities, interests, and development stage? (Guiding Principles for Use of Technology with Early Learners, 2016)
7 Ways to Support Families and Outcomes Using Technology
Once we’ve evaluated the values of technology per each child’s situation, we can consider employing some of the following strategies for intervention and improvement.
- Parents can use video chats as a new and exciting way for children to use their language and imitation skills with a variety of people.
- Show parents how they can engage in an app or screen time activity together with their child to promote quality interactions.
- At the end of a visit, encourage parents to set a reminder alert in their phone to practice certain strategies or focus on a specific interaction with their child.
- Recommend apps that educate and support parents in understanding child development, such as: CDC’s Milestone Tracker, VROOM, and HelloJoey.
- Educate parents about how to evaluate apps/programs for developmental appropriateness.
- Coach parents in setting boundaries with screen time and managing challenging behaviors that may arise from this. Help them determine specific “screen free” routines throughout the day.
- Remind parents that no “educational” technology or program is better for their child’s development than regularly engaging in interaction, exploration, and play everyday!
Share your thoughts and experiences below by leaving a comment:
How have you seen screens and technology impacting Early Intervention visits?
Have families ever asked for advice about apps or programs to help their child? How do you or would you respond?
Please share any great technology resources that you have found in the comments too!
Guiding Principles for Use of Technology with Early Learners. (2016). Retrieved from https://tech.ed.gov/earlylearning/principles/.
Radesky, J., and Christakis, D. (2016). Media and young minds. Journal of the Academy of Pediatrics, 138(5), doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2591.
Rachel Todd lives in Northern Utah and has worked as a Service Coordinator for the Up to 3 Early Intervention Program since 2017. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Family, Consumer, and Human Development emphasizing in child development and worked with families in Early Head Start programs before joining EI. She is also a graduate student in the Instructional Technology & Learning Sciences program at Utah State University and loves professional development of all forms. Rachel and her husband have a one-year-old son and a spoiled fur baby and love to get outside in the mountains together every chance they get! You can reach Rachel at